As the outdoor track season enters the third week of competition, the Ohio State women’s team relies on the strong performance of underclassmen to help motivate and improve the overall team morale.
The women’s squad contains a group of student-athletes with strengths across the board, ranging from freshmen all the way up to seniors. Despite this, coach Karen Dennis said the strong work and performance from the underclassmen motivates the entire team to be better.
“When they can come in and give us an immediate impact, that makes everyone better,” Dennis said. “As long as we can keep (the underclassmen) improving and add the strength and experience of our juniors and seniors, that is really going to make the whole team just that much better team.”
An underclassman who has specifically shown a strong performance is sophomore hurdler and sprinter Alexis Franklin. Franklin was named the 2013 Big Ten Outdoor Freshman of the Year, but rolled her ankle during the first meet of the indoor season, the Buckeye Classic at the French Field House in January.
“It was devastating,” Franklin said of her injury. “It killed me to see everyone out there running, when I wanted to be out there running with them.”
Franklin said having to sit out all indoor season was really hard because she is not one to “sit back on the sidelines.”
“This is the sport that I love, so it was really hard to just be a spectator versus a competitor,” Franklin said.
However, it motivated her to work hard during her rehab and get healthy again so she could come back strong and ready to run come outdoor season.
And that she did.
In her debut of the outdoor season at the Yellow Jacket Invitational, she took second in the 400-meter hurdles, snagging a time of 59.40 seconds. The following week at the LSU Battle on the Bayou, Franklin came in first in the 400-meter hurdles finishing second in the long hurdle with a time of 58.65 seconds.
“I am so happy to have her back,” Dennis said. “She is such an amazing athlete. We really missed her contributions indoors, but look forward to it outdoors.”
Franklin said she could not be happier to be back running with her teammates. When she was on the sidelines, one of the hardest parts of the injury was not being able to help the team.
“I love being a part of a group of women that puts in the hard work to be the championship team that we are,” Franklin said. “(Being an underclassman) gives me more time to get better each year, (staying) hungry for winning anything that I can.”
Another strong underclassman is freshman sprinter Aaliyah Barnes. The native of the two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin’s alma mater, Eastmoor Academy, said she was reluctant at first to come to OSU, although her family members are huge Buckeye fans and encouraged her to lean toward OSU. She joked that during her other college visits, her mom would wear OSU spirit wear spanning from an OSU jacket, all the way down to her tennis shoes.
Barnes said she’s grateful that she was swayed by her family’s love for OSU.
“Some schools, it’s just track. You are only there for one thing, to run,” Barnes said. “But our coach is more of a family-type person, it’s more than just a team.”
Barnes said the most encouraging aspect of the coaching staff is how the coaches want to see each athlete grow as women and not just as track athletes.
“Having a team and running for someone else, not just yourself, makes me want to do better,” Barnes said.
Dennis said she doesn’t place a ton of expectations on the incoming freshman, but was impressed by the nature of Barnes’ character and drive to be a great competitor.
“(It’s) a rare quality for a freshman to come in with no sense of fear and just be excited to race every weekend and excited to be in practice every day,” Dennis said. “She just appreciates everyday wearing the scarlet and gray.”
Barnes cruised to first place in the 400-meter dash in the last meet at the LSU Battle on the Bayou April 5 with a time of 53.58 seconds. She, like Franklin, has made an impressive debut to the outdoor season.
“My goal is for (everyone) to know who I am by the end of the year,” Barnes said.
The women’s team is off this weekend, but is set to return to action at home in the Jesse Owens Classic April 18.